What do they do at these summits? A brief background in advance of the Toronto and Huntsville meetings.
Group of 20 (G-20)
The G20’s basic aim is to get the major economies together to come up with policies to make the world safe for markets. The G20 grew out of the G8, in an attempt to provide an expanded forum for both the richest and the emerging market countries to join “the core of global economic discussion and governance”
The G20 groups the EU and 19 countries — Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Republic of Korea, Turkey, Britain, and the US. It also invites the International Monetary Fund and the Word Bank to be part of the meetings.
The G20 economies account for 90 percent of global output, 80 percent of world trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population.
Last year in Pittsburgh, the G20 announced that it would focus on international economic issues in the attempt to deal with global crises. They are currently discussing how best to make the world safe for markets and capitalism, and, within that paradigm, there are differences among countries.
For example, European countries are pushing for a global tax on banks (background) to pay for economic crises, while Canada has come out strongly opposed (and is, thus far, winning the fight). They are planning to spend a great deal of time talking about the Greek debt crisis, and the crisis in the Eurozone. They are also looking at economic reform and, given its neoliberal orientation, a large part of their reform focus is on cutting deficits, cutting social spending, and chopping public workers gains, viewing them as ‘wasteful’.
Critics call the G20 an unofficial global government promoting neoliberal economics. Whenever there is a choice to be made between the interests of corporate power and the interests of the population, they support the needs of corporations. All the while, they neglect climate change by pushing the issue to the bottom of the agenda.
They see the G20 as playing the role of global cop and global financial ‘reform’ facilitator – without accountability to the people they speak for and at the expense of the poor and dispossessed. This is why there are always protests when the G20 and G8 come to (any) town.
Group of 8 (G8)
The G8 is the original economic planning organization of the richest countries of the world (it was the G7 before Russia joined in 1997, and the G6 before Canada joined in 1975). As the G20 has become more prominent in economic coordination, the G8 has begun to take on a different role, focusing more on the ‘soft’ issues of development, the environment, and international security. Critics argue that the focus on these issues is a means to support and provide the infrastructure for access to markets, rather than being an end in themselves. Market-based solutions rule at the G8.
In any case, the G8 may be folded into the G20 at the 2010 Toronto/Huntsville summits. This would leave the G20 as the preeminent body on all these issues – with economic stability and promoting market solutions as its core agenda.
Further “what are the G20/G8” links:
At the Table – G8/G20 101 – clear and concise background from the ‘civil society’ perspective on what the G8 and G20 do, how they are (or are not) held accountable
Globe and Mail – Key G20/G8 summit issues Brief backgrounder on the key issues: Maternal health; Iran; Global economic policy; Global bank tax; Balanced and sustainable economic growth; Trade
G20 Information Centre – “What is the G20” – This is a detailed history of the G20 from it’s time as the G7 to the present day. It does not discuss protest or critiques about the G20, but provides a useful official history (as does their G8 Information Centre – What is the G8? page)
Oxfam Canada summary of the G8 and G20 Summits: A brief and helpful WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY of the two summits and the issues involved.
Stuart Trew, Trade Campaigner for the Council of Canadians, answers questions about the G7, G8, G20 on Hamilton Radio, February 8, 2010. [Audio]